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Baroness Maddock: I have listened patiently to the debate wondering when it was most appropriate for me to speak to this issue. We got into rather deep water earlier. I do not wish to speak at length but I was moved to speak by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on reorganisation. I shall return to that matter in a moment.

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The Government and the Opposition Benches face a difficulty in this area because they approach the matter from different angles. We have before us this afternoon a series of amendments from the Conservative Benches which seek to delay getting rid of grammar schools. They admit that they want to keep grammar schools. That is quite clear to all of us. The Government are in some difficulty because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said earlier, they have in the past always been against selection. I believe that most of them still oppose selection but they do not talk about that quite so much these days. The Government--perhaps for understandable reasons--do not wish to reorganise education further as it has undergone many reorganisations over the years. The Government have tried to listen to what people have said in that regard. However, that makes their position a little difficult.

I have no difficulty in saying that I and many of my colleagues are not in favour of selection in schools. I attended a grammar school and I taught in a secondary modern school that became a comprehensive while I was teaching there. I have two daughters who both attended what I call truly comprehensive schools. They are quite difficult to find these days because in some areas children are "creamed off" and schools are not always true comprehensive schools. One of my daughters is now at Cambridge and the other is about to go to university. Therefore I do not speak from a background of ignorance. I have been a chairman of governors at a school and I have fought school closures. However, nothing has convinced me that it is reasonable to have a great deal of selection. I have noticed that it is always the average children who receive the least resources. In this country the majority of the population are at the middle of the ability distribution curve. All my experience shows me that those in the middle range of ability--the majority of the population--who make our economy work, lose out in terms of resources. Over the years I have seen the money allocated to education cut dramatically. As we go into the 21st century we need to educate people as well as possible.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that in many cases reorganisations had been awful. I cannot remember who was in control of the city of Southampton when reorganisation took place there as control of the city has changed from one side to the other. However, it had a good education department, whether the city was run by the Conservatives or by Labour. We had good education services. During my second year of teaching the school where I taught, which was a girls' secondary modern school with a grammar stream--a rather strange beast--became a comprehensive school. That was a good reorganisation. It went smoothly and there were no problems. Admittedly that was an urban environment and therefore travel to various schools was quite easy. However, much thought and care went into the planning of the reorganisation. That can be done.

I am not saying that I think people want massive reorganisation in schools today. What comes across to me--I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, put her finger on it--is that at the previous election two

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of the three parties that stood for election discussed resources for education in their manifestos. They were resoundingly rewarded at that election.

What people most care about is that there are resources in a school for their child, whatever his or her ability. That is what we have been fighting for. Over a number of years, I have seen that it is costly and expensive to provide grammar schools. In some areas less money has been available for other, less able children. I want to see enough money made available to provide good opportunities for all children. I know that I had more money spent on me in a grammar school than did children in secondary schools in the area. I know how much more they could have achieved had they had the same opportunity. That is what we are talking about. I do not intend to speak at great length on all the amendments. However, I wanted to make our position clear. We should not listen to scare stories about reorganisation. It can be done properly.

5 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, for her remarks. They were based on her rich experience as a teacher, a mother, a pupil, a governor and a member of a local education authority. I cannot disagree with anything that she said. She is right to say that what people care about is that their children have adequate resources spent on them in a good school, whatever their ability.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised various questions. First, however, I wish to respond to her point about the dissipation of capital spending as a result of parents in some areas deciding through a ballot that they favour a move towards a non-selective system, or from a grammar school to a non-selective school. We are talking about a ballot for a single school and the potential for the school to change to be non-selective.

I believe that parents will welcome some spending for that purpose. I do not think that they will disagree with it. Moreover, if reorganisation is needed, funds are available. We are spending well over £1 billion on schools capital. I believe that the figure in Kent this year is some £18 million. I do not accept the noble Baroness's point about dissipation. There are bigger and broader objectives here. If parents are committed to the idea of a non-selective system in their area, I do not think that they will object to reasonable spending to ensure that, with all the improvements that are likely to follow from it for their children.

The noble Baroness asked about three or four-form entry and whether we accept that as adequate from the point of view of a comprehensive school. Again, it is a matter for local decision and for the school organisation committees. Many small comprehensive schools are doing a good job. We should not denigrate those schools. In urban areas they are likely to be rather larger, and that, too, has some advantages.

The noble Baroness asked about timing. Draft Regulation 18 covers that question. We are allowing at least 18 months from the ballot result to the introduction

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of all-ability entry to a school. Reorganisation proposals can be pursued in parallel through the school organisation committee.

The noble Baroness asked also whether grammar schools can produce prospectuses and information of that kind in the course of a ballot. The answer is yes, so long as the information provided is factual, fair and objective. If the noble Baroness has further questions on the matter, perhaps we may deal with them in response to Opposition amendments under the relevant grouping.

I believe that I have answered all the noble Baroness's questions. In the light of this debate and my remarks as to why these proposals are unacceptable, I hope that she will be able to withdraw her amendments.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: Will the Minister clarify her observation about the £18 million allocated by the Government this year for schools capital expenditure in Kent? Is she suggesting that there is some surplus available there, over and above what is already planned by the education authority, to meet what she described as the reasonable expenditure that will be occasioned by foreseeable reorganisation following upon the ballots? Is that the significance? I understood the Minister to say that some local authorities had a reasonable amount of money--£1.5 billion was the figure cited for all England and Wales, and £18 million for Kent.

In the case of Kent, how much of that £18 million would she regard as being reasonably available in the event of ballots resulting in a change? What estimate has been made by the Government of what "reasonable" costs might be? The noble Baroness described my reference to hundreds of millions of pounds in Kent as "hyperbole". It was perhaps fortunate that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was not in his place. Otherwise she might have received the kind of lecture that he gave to my noble friend. Has the Minister taken on board that that £100 million or more was mentioned by the chairman of the education authority in Kent. That was made clear by my noble friend Lord Pilkington. I am sorry to have taken up the Committee's time, but perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to answer those questions.

Baroness Blackstone: I apologise if the noble and learned Lord felt that the term "hyperbole" was unacceptable. Perhaps I should have said, "a little exaggerated". I simply do not know how the chairman of the education committee arrived at that figure. I cannot see how he or she could possibly know. We have no idea what parents in Kent will decide. They may be in favour of retaining the existing system; or there may be a move to a different one. But merely observing that, year after year, substantial sums are available for schools capital is reasonable. How the money is spent will depend on the LEA's judgment as to priorities each year. If parents in Kent vote in favour of moving to a non-selective system, I should have thought that the Kent local education authority would take seriously the wishes of parents and want to allocate

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whatever sum of money is necessary to meet those wishes so that Kent can have a viable and sensible non-selective system.


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